Gwen Lewis is the founding director of online operations at Ron Lewis Automotive Group. Her father, Ron Lewis, started the company in 1975.
Tell me a little about the history of Ron Lewis Automotive Group and how your family got involved.
Our dealership group started back in the ‘70s. In 1970, my dad, Ron Lewis, was just out of college – a graduate of Bucknell University and West Point. He needed a job, so a friend’s father, who owned Foss Ford, hired him as a salesperson there. He wasn’t at the dealership long before someone told him that he’d never make it in the car business because he was “too nice of a guy.” To prove him wrong, my dad put his desk next to the front door of the store and started selling.
Eventually, he worked his way up into management. In 1975, he started the Ron Lewis Automotive Group with his first dealership, McKnight Road Dodge. Now, 39 years later, we have more than 260 employees and six dealerships that are located in Pleasant Hills, Waynesburg, Cranberry and Beaver Falls. We represent Ford, Chevrolet, Kia, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and Viper.
I joined the business 14 years ago and developed our Online Operations and our Group Branding efforts. I’m now moving into more of the overall operations. My brother-in-law, Jobie Glessner, runs our Cranberry dealerships. My sister, Romi Lewis Glessner, heads up our customer relations program. My dad is still involved on a daily basis and is always looking at new opportunities for growth. He’s a true entrepreneur.
Why do you think there are so many family-run car dealerships in Pittsburgh?
Family-owned dealerships aren’t unique to Pittsburgh, however, Western Pennsylvania is notably a family-oriented region of the country.
I will say that the nature of a car dealership’s structure also lends itself well to being a family business. Why? There are many different departments and business units – from sales to service to finance to management, to the technical expertise needed for repairs and in our bodyshops. Having these different facets of the business allow for family members with a variety of skill sets and interests to get involved.
Also, when you involve family members in a business, there is a heightened sense of accountability and ownership for the role that they play. In my experience, you don’t just go home at the end of the day, you constantly represent your business and are thinking about ways to improve it.
Why should people support family-run businesses like Ron Lewis Automotive Group?
We’re not going anywhere! This is our livelihood. We have families to support, hire locally and support our local communities. You’ll see us sponsoring local youth sports teams like Sewickley Developmental Hockey, schools including Senaca Valley, as well as community outreach programs such as Three Rivers Rowing Association’s First Row and The Alliance for Safe and Drug Free Children.
When you choose to buy from the Ron Lewis Automotive Group, rather than a large national chain, there’s more of a personal touch and you can expect to build a relationship with us. My feeling is that people like dealing with owners. With the reputation that my dad has built over the years, that is one of the reasons why we felt it was important to rebrand our stores to have “Ron Lewis” as the nameplate on each of our dealerships. Our family’s reputation is on the line with every car that we sell.
What sets your dealership apart from others in the area?
They say that you can tell a lot about a person by the company that they keep, and a lot about a company by the people that they keep. We have employees who have been part of our organization for decades, even over 50 years. That said, we are also attracting some great new talent with the combination of passion and experience that we have on our management team.
Sure, we offer our customers an oil change package with every purchase, a complimentary vehicle wash and vacuum with each service visit, and with our sticker, each customer receives free lifetime state inspection check-ups. These are all great benefits, but I believe that it’s the experience that people have and how they feel they are treated when they come to our dealerships that is most important.
My sister and I read every single online customer review and comment that is posted. If it’s positive, we can give credit where credit is due! If it’s less than positive, we work hard to resolve any issue and take action to not just move forward, but to constantly keep improving.
We feel it’s important to “put yourself in the customers’ shoes” –whether they are looking at cars, in for service, or asking a question about a part. When we do this, we’re reminded to treat other people how we’d want to be treated. If we do that with professionalism and a positive attitude, we will continue to be successful.
What do you enjoy doing with your family when you’re not at the dealership?
Right now, it’s watching our kids play ice hockey. Our family “Fan Club” usually takes up a section of the rink bleachers and (loudly) cheers our kids and their teams on. These kids play their hearts out and it’s great fun to watch and support them. Otherwise, it’s getting everyone together around a big table. Sometimes it’s tough to finish a sentence or get a word in edgewise, but it’s a blessing to have everyone together.